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  • Lucy Bentley

Why Craft Matters: The Importance of Tradition in the Modern World



A recent market research report published by the Crafts Council (2020) shows that more people than ever are buying from makers and craft businesses, with the market for craft growing from an estimated £883m in 2006 to £3bn in 2019. Not only is this market growing, it’s also becoming more diverse, with younger people starting to collect craft pieces – but what could be driving this demand for handcrafted items?

As you may have noticed, craft has started to make its way into mainstream media, with shows such as The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throwdown reaching millions of viewers each week. This representation of craft on television is making it more accessible to individuals with less specialist knowledge – this could be encouraging more people to take an interest and ultimately make a purchase and perhaps inspire them to learn a new skill.

Not only are we buying more craft pieces, more makers are emerging as it’s becoming easier to sell work through e-commerce; this removes the need for a studio or gallery and ultimately cuts down on costs associated with running a business. Portfolio careers are becoming more common, with many makers starting their own practice alongside their day job, with more and more of these individuals being self-taught. Social media has become a useful advertising tool, allowing these makers to easily reach a large audience without the need for a physical presence and allowing potential customers to discover their work.

Despite this digital exposure, more consumers prefer to buy craft in a face-to-face setting – could we be associating craft purchases with a more authentic, emotional buying experience? Not only do we buy craft pieces as beautiful objects, there’s often an interest in the making process behind it, the maker themselves and the story of the piece; we want to support the craftsmanship that went into the process. Perhaps we value the craftsmanship so highly because in comparison to mass-manufacture, we see these pieces as more honest, more human. Could this human element allow us to relate to the pieces more easily, could this be what makes craft so valuable to us?

In his treatise on ‘The Stones of Venice,’ social reformer and art critic John Ruskin wrote “You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves….On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make him a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dulness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds settling upon him.”

Ruskin recognised that it was the ‘human’ element which made something original, it was the imperfect which captured the true spirit of the artist or craftsperson. He realised that humans should not be achieving the same level of perfection as machines and it should not be strived for, instead he saw art and craftsmanship for what he believed it really should be – a form of human creation and expression. Perhaps this is why we view craft as more authentic – could it be that knowing a piece was made by human hands makes the object more relatable? Is creativity and imagination a vital part of humanity, the essence of which craft encapsulates?

As we move further and further into a digital age, it’s possible that we are feeling drawn to hand crafted objects as we long for a simpler, more human time. As so much changes, and so many aspects of our lives are beginning to rely on technology, it perhaps comes as no surprise that we’re starting to lean towards the handmade. Could we be using this as a way to try and keep tradition alive?

An increase in demand for paid craft experiences suggests that we also hold a fascination with the techniques and processes used by craftsmen. Perhaps knowing a product is made by hand makes us feel like it’s something we could be capable of ourselves, inspiring us to want to learn a new skill.

Historically, making by hand was the only way, individuals would learn and hone a craft over the years because their livelihood depended on it. Learning a craft would allow them to create products, and ultimately enable them to trade. These skills were developed and perfected over generations; such knowledge was rarely kept as a written record, and instead relied on being passed down through the family.

If we continue to rely on machine manufacture instead of practising traditional crafts, these techniques and processes which our ancestors spent years perfecting could be lost forever. Keeping craft alive could be an important factor in why more of us are buying craft, and the rising popularity of craft workshops and experiences.

A recent poll I posted on Instagram showed that many of you are interested in learning a craft, but few felt like it was an achievable goal. Many felt like time, expense and not having the confidence to know how or where to start were limiting factors, ultimately putting them off. Others felt like learning a craft in a more structured, educational environment made them feel rushed, and would prefer to work in a less restricted way.

I believe that keeping traditional craft processes alive and sharing knowledge and skills should be actively encouraged, and made accessible to as many individuals as possible. The factors above need to be combated to allow more of us to feel like learning a new craft or skill is an attainable goal.

Moving forward, I will be collaborating with other artists, designers and makers to offer online craft tutorials through my blog. These will be free to access, and will outline the history of various craft techniques alongside providing a platform for artists and makers to showcase their skills and knowledge. The tutorials will be easy to follow and require minimal specialist equipment, making them suitable to try at home. These tutorials will be in two parts, the first covering basic techniques and processes and the second will show you how you can apply these skills to create a unique piece for your home.

I’d love to hear your feedback, and if there are any specific crafts or skills you’d be interested in learning then please don’t hesitate to let me know!

References & Further Reading:

Crafts Council, 2020. (Web) The Market for Craft. Available at: https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/content/files/CC-Market_for_Craft-Final.pdf [Accessed 7 July 2020]

Ruskin, J., (1851-53.) The Stones of Venice. Smith, Elder and Co. [London]

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